Who is a Charedi Rabbi

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Elior Chen is off to jail, to serve a well deserved and long sentence for multiple counts of child abuse. For years, Chen operated his own cult, teaching his “disciples” that child abuse was necessary in order to “purify” children, which he applied specifically to one family. For those unfamiliar with the details, it will be better for your stomachs if I don’t repeat them here.

What motivates this posting is the headline in HaAretz: “Haredi ‘Rabbi’ Elior Chen sentenced …” Haredi? Because he has a black yarmulke and a long beard? By what logic does HaAretz put quotation marks around the word “Rabbi” (other news reports call him “self-ordained”) while declaring him to be truly “Haredi”?

Chen was not connected to any Charedi leader or to the fabric of Charedi life, despite living in a charedi settlement. Basically, he’s Charedi like Sun Myung Moon is “Christian,” but no one would write the headline that “Christian ‘Reverend’ Sun Myung Moon …” did anything at all. Similarly, no one referred to “Reform Rabbi Fred Neulander” when he hired two hit men to murder his wife in 1994. Articles only called his congregation Reform, if at all, as was appropriate.

So why did HaAretz use such an unusual, not to say outrageous, title? It’s not hard to discern.

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33 Responses

  1. Moshe Shoshan says:

    It is so easy to find anti frum things in Haaretz. By crying wolf on this case, when Haaretz is only reporting on a true chillul hashem, you only undermine your wider case.

  2. Yaakov Menken says:

    Miriam, in this case, missed my point. What was offensive in this discussion was labeling Chen as a “Charedi ‘Rabbi'”, implying some sort of Charedi leadership position. Living in a Charedi neighborhood doesn’t make one part of the Charedi mainstream or certainly a Charedi leader, as the “Taliban women” demonstrate. All of which, of course, is doubled upon the impropriety of attaching a label at all, given its absence in similar cases.

    cvmay seems to have missed much of the point of Cross-Currents in the first place, which is to finally have a place to respond to a biased media. I hope we manage to “call them on it” in less obvious cases as well.

    Yoel refers to those who don’t “buy” the idea that one Gadol should rely upon another. Since you don’t have these sort of letters with many signatures paralleled in the secular world, the non-Charedim may not recognize the hypocrisy inherent in that position. In every corner of the world, experts rely upon each other routinely or nothing gets done.

  3. Yoel B says:

    The issues with Pollard have been the length of his sentence, and the related ones of how much harm his actions did, and the government’s actions regarding his plea arrangements. Not denial of his guilt; his most passionate defenders acknowledge his actions and say they were virtuous, or at any rate justified.

    Nobody has called Pollard a “marbitz Torah” or referred to him as “הר’’ר” as the letter from Rav Elyashiv etc did. Not to mention the Eidah’s statement, post conviction, that Chen is a “sensitive soul” who couldn’t have done it.

    With all respect to Rabbi Menken, not everyone outside the Chareidi world is finely enough attuned to the nature of its leadership to be satisfied with “It is entirely commonplace and appropriate for one Gadol to rely upon the opinion of another when putting his signature on a letter, approbation on a book or organization, or what have you.” In fact, to much of the outside world, that kind of thing doesn’t look good at all.

  4. Tzvi2 says:

    “Plenty of rabbis, both Charedi and Modern Orthodox, have called for clemency for Jonathan Pollard, and some have even denounced his sentence as unjustly excessive and based on bias. Does that make Pollard Orthodox? Charedi?”

    How many MO Rabbis have rushed to Chen’s defense? How many non-orthodox?

    Pollard is defended by many Jews across the spectrum. Chen is defended by only one tiny sliver. And the words that tiny sliver use to defend him (“marbiz torah”, etc.) suggest that he is being defended because he is one of their own.

  5. Miriam says:

    the “Taliban women” (who wear veils, if not outright burqas) also live in Charedi neighborhoods despite the Eidah’s condemnation of the practice…

    Oh cut it out already… of course the burka ladies are most affiliated with the Charedi community. Unfortunately it’s quite confusing because there’s a movement in many Charedi communities encouraging women to wear shawls over their clothing and possibly draped from the head. Meanwhile, the only people who take a stand against the fully-veiled ladies (and kids) they encounter on the street are Charedim themselves – because they don’t appreciate this variation of Charedi-ism. Certainly you wouldn’t suggest that the burka ladies are products of the dati leumi community? (And you don’t see the Eidah making statements against dati leumi “alladin” pants, chiloni mixed beaches, etc. – only potential temptations to the Charedi community.)

    I don’t think the idea that “they violate what the gedolim of X community say and therefore they aren’t in X community” works very well – just look at how many Charedi women have sheitlach that are far longer than the mandate we’ve had around for over 10 years, republished frequently.

    Possibly one way to evaluate if someone is Charedi (or whatever) is to review their personal background. I can’t find more online about Chen other than his family is religious and his father says he’s being persecuted “because he’s haredi.” There is some disagreement whether the bulk of the burka ladies are baalei teshuva (and therefore can be retroactively discredited as “real” charedim) or charedi-raised/educated women taking their charedi affiliation too far – although I think there is recent information about the movement (including an Israeli news report) which should include some demographics.

  6. Tal Benschar says:

    “When the chareidi community and the gedolim rush to someone’s defense, despite his horrific crimes, I would think it is fair to call him chareidi.”

    Plenty of rabbis, both Charedi and Modern Orthodox, have called for clemency for Jonathan Pollard, and some have even denounced his sentence as unjustly excessive and based on bias. Does that make Pollard Orthodox? Charedi?

  7. saul says:

    “the letter’s practical purpose was to pay the expenses of his defense fund”

    A halachaic question: Are community funds,aka: Tzedakah, to be alloted for legal services of a child abuser? Doesn’t the state provide legal services for free?

  8. cvmay says:

    HaAretz’s headline was inappropriate YES & IT SELLS PAPERS

    indicated a second agenda ALL PUBLICATIONS HAVE AGENDAS (we are mature and know that!)

    impartial reporting of the news CAN YOU PLEASE NAME A NEWS MEDIA THAT IS IMPARTIAL & NON BIASED?

  9. L. Oberstein says:

    “Chen is a sick, evil man who preyed on OUR children. ”

    I was talking to someone in the yeshiva world today who has counseled victims of abuse and it is clear that one can divide the community into those who simply can’t imagine that it exists and live in denial and those who know the horrible consequenes of abuse first hand. Most people have no idea and can’t fathom it. That is why they want to avoid dealing with it in a meaningful way. What a tragedy.

  10. Yaakov Menken says:

    Given Miriam’s comment above, it seems obvious that I misunderstood the extent of support for Chen from some Charedi sources. I don’t know if he has a brother-in-law at the Eidah, or what. But the fact that he lived in a charedi community doesn’t mean all that much … the “Taliban women” (who wear veils, if not outright burqas) also live in Charedi neighborhoods despite the Eidah’s condemnation of the practice. It remains true that he wasn’t a Charedi Rabbi in any eyes but his own and those of his followers.

    Tzvi’s comment is probably accurate, and there’s nothing surprising or wrong with it. It is entirely commonplace and appropriate for one Gadol to rely upon the opinion of another when putting his signature on a letter, approbation on a book or organization, or what have you. And let’s remember, the letter’s practical purpose was to pay the expenses of his defense fund and feed his children. No one claims he was a man of means, and it was appropriate that he have a good lawyer. I’m glad he got a lawyer, and I’m glad he was convicted.

    The point remains that even were he unquestionably a charedi Rabbi, leading a shul or yeshiva, HaAretz’s headline was inappropriate and indicated a second agenda having nothing to do with impartial reporting of the news.

  11. robert lebovits says:

    HaAretz described Chen this way because there is a significant percentage of its readership that enjoys stories harshly depicting those who claim to be G-D fearing. I think our concern ought to be with the fundamental problem, not its symptom. What makes so many secular Israelis so virulently anti-religious that they take pleasure in these reports? Of course there are many factors contributing to this reality, but it most certainly is not one-sided. We can be as indignant – or jaded – as we want to be. But we should not ignore our contribution to the hostilities. Chen is a sick, evil man who preyed on OUR children. If we want respect for ourselves as a community of decent folk then we should be distressed that he wasn’t stopped by unsera!

  12. Tzvi2 says:

    When the chareidi community and the gedolim rush to someone’s defense, despite his horrific crimes, I would think it is fair to call him chareidi. R’ Chaim Kaniefsky is on record as saying that he signed on in support of Chen because “when my robbonim sign on to something, I sign on too.” Are you suggesting that R’ Chaim was wrong and no chareidi rabbonim supported Chen?

    Whether Ha’aretz should highlight his affiliation is another matter.

  13. Miriam says:

    Rabbi Oberstein, you have sent my thoughts on quite a trajectory.

    I remember once coming across an essay by Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l preparing his Washington Heights congregation to accept a new leader for the community – and years later meeting members of that congregation who spoke with pride regarding the foresight of their Mora d’Asra to forsee their future needs for continuity and address them well before those needs arose.

    But it seems our elderly Gedolim of today did not take any such steps to groom and promote the next in line. Certainly some of this is a preference – of the Gedolim, their proteges, and ourselves – to stay with a previous generation of Gedolim rather than step down a notch to the ones of the future, one step further away from Moshe Rabeinu.

    Yet it isn’t only our reluctance to admit yeridas hadoros. It’s really a new world out there, and most of our well-bred and learned Rabbanim don’t know what to do with it. Not just technology – although it seems every month I read a new story of a chashuve institution failing to strong-arm its students into complete avoidance of a taboo feature on their devices. We can’t get along either – Sefardim and Ashkenazim, rationalists and spiritualists, chilonim and datiim. Yet to preserve one’s own derech, the “my way or highway” attitude feels far more secure.

    Was religious life really once so black-and-white? Or is it the beginnings of kibutz galuyos, overwhelming the average person and even the Rabbanim with so much diversity? It certainly used to be simpler.

  14. L. Oberstein says:

    There are too many gatekeepers, but there’s nothing behind the gate.”
    I came across this quote describing black politicians in Chicago and why their leadership was not able to garner more than 9%of the vote for their candidate. The phenomenon in the Wizard of Oz is well known. Fortunately, once one gets past the gatekeepers in our circles , one meets men of exceptional piety and knowledge. I do wonder if these very old and sheltered scholars fully know about the actions of their gatekeepers. Someone told me that he went to see Rav Elyashiv and as he went in the handler told him that for $40.00 a photographer was on the scene to take his picture meeting with the rabbi. My questgion is why are the gedolim so very old, does it fit into the program to have people of such age so that the askanim can shelter them in a way they could never do with a younger godol.If there a next generation after the current ones?

  15. cvmay says:

    Every writer, publisher, journalist, blogger, commenter has a POV that he/she wants to spread and have accepted by its reader. This is a fact that we are all aware of (I hope!!). There is a POV to be taled and told until the IDEA becomes a FACT. Behind most newspapers, journals, magazines and books there is a stronghold called the Editorial Board, it can be a Vaad Harabbanim, Stockholders, Political Party or whatever. The reader should be knowledgeable about what they are reading and listening to.
    There is zero surprise in the expressions, antidotes and words that HaEretz uses in its reporting. Just as it is no surprise to read the conclusions of Hamodia, Yated, Jewish Week and the popular blogs of Matzav, Emes Vemunah, Cross Currents and others. A writer is not a robot, he/she is a living being, full of life experiences, cultural & religious slant, political affinities and self-understood justice & righteousness. This comes out with the pen or keyboard. There are very few writers who have the ability to fully comprehend the depth of an issue and subsequently report it with objectivity.
    IOW Haeretz you reported as expected and Rabbi Menken, your response is as expected.

  16. L. Oberstein says:

    Chen and others like him exist and there are people who follow such people to their detriment. Haaretz is anti-frum, has always been and is so for a reason. The secular zionist enterprise has been at war with the religious community since the earliest days of modern zionism. The pressure to leave observance and join the socialists and other secular ideologies took on the passion of a religion. Haaretz is proud to publish articles about “Chozrim B’She’eilah”, i.e. chareidim who have escaped and are now housed in a half way house to learn how to be secular.Whenever they send a reporter into a yeshiva, it will be to find a nut case and cast him as the typical avreich. If we understand this, we can also understand why the very orthodox in Israel suspect and harbor such antagonism towards a “core curriculum” or national service or anything else that would integrate their youth into Israeli society. We in America have a different set of experiences and don’t get it.

  17. Miriam says:

    People here in Israel are only talking about the Eida’s statements in favor of Chen, which are multiple and verifiable. Chen lived and ran his program in Beitar, an all-charedi town (unlike say Bet Shemesh which also has dati leumi, mesorati and those who might also be reclassified as charedi-wannabees), and the students and teachers were charedi. Suggesting Chen “isn’t charedi” goes too far in my opinion.

    Media representation is a different issue. The best we can say is that these stories garner more sensationalist attention than the misdeeds of the non-religious because of the a sharp contrast with where we should be (whether you call us charedi or just religious).

    The Chen story, like others of beyond-the-pale charedi crimes, are a serious embarrassment to the charedi community. But unfortunately there is no effective way for our leaders to stop these kinds of aberrations (using internal means alone), and instead as Rabbi Menken says in his comment regarding denying forged statements most of the leaders’ time is better spent on those who listen to their leaders.

  18. chareidi leumi says:

    >If Rav Elyashiv published a clarification whenever his name was misused he’d have no time for constructive matters.

    Why is that? It does not take long to write a clarification. And if he constantly did it, it would be a disincentive for the supposed forgers who are using his name. And in a case such as this – where massive hillul Hashem is involved – what exact constructive matters does he have which are more important. Unless, of course, he did indeed sign it – and does indeed support Chen – I am just not sure which prospect is the worse one.

    Further, I am sure he can claim more than libel. They are supposidly publishing things in his name – misusing it without his permision. I am no lawyer but it sounds like fraud to me.

  19. Bob Miller says:

    1. To the world at large, a person is what he looks like and/or claims to be. Short of issuing membership cards, what can a group do to avoid mistaken identifications by the press? Overall, journalism is in poor condition these days.

    2. When a genuine member of an Orthodox group (whatever that means) is caught doing something wrong, does that automatically prove that he was never really a member? Few groups or communities have no bad apples whatsoever. Some members will always fail to get the message.

  20. BTG says:

    I’m not sure why you are getting so worked up about what Ha’aretz writes. Even liberal Israelis think they are off the deep end.

  21. dr. bill says:

    when the right spends it effort disciplining its ultra-right fringe, versus criticizing those to the left, as CO/MO often do criticizing the post-modern left, more is accomplished.

  22. lacosta says:

    in fairness , one always tries to tag one enemies with faults whenever possible.
    Haaretz goes after haredi and settler Orthodox. Yated goes after ”modern””orthodox”
    Aguda goes after those not in their tent. chabad after litvaks and anti-Messianics…

    the surprise is of course, when Haaretz writes a pro-haredi article, when Yated writes a pro-YU article , when aguda writes a pro- Modern Orthodox article, when chabad writes a pro-Misnaged article

    but of course , that won’t happen till mashiach comes, and in fact , may be what’s holding him back….

  23. saul says:

    it is entirely uncharacteristic of a news outlet to put a denominational affiliation in the title of an article as in this case.

    It is completely CHARACTERISTIC for news outlets to include, “National Religious”, “Settler Rabbi” or “Religious Zionist” whenever it desires to malign or delegitimize the group of people focused upon. In agreement that labels are assigned by association.

  24. Yaakov Menken says:

    If Rav Elyashiv published a clarification whenever his name was misused he’d have no time for constructive matters. Let’s first have a clarification about Kupat HaIr, which has done so much more damage. As for having the forgers “prosecuted” … the worst he could claim is libel, and I suggest CL have a look at the relevant laws and the burden of proof upon the claimant — even before considering the propriety of litigation (Beis Din or civil) against someone who misused his name to help a defense fund.

    The claim that labeling by association is “society’s norm” would be all well and good were it true, but it isn’t. There are two points here: first, that Chen was no Haredi Rabbi, with or without quotes, and second, that even were he one, it is entirely uncharacteristic of a news outlet to put a denominational affiliation in the title of an article as in this case.

    David Knight is only partially correct. An elected Democrat or Republican may be identified within an article because it is an obvious matter of public record, but not necessarily. Certain media outlets will rarely fail to mention that an “outed” politician in a compromising situation is Republican, but I would assert that this is evidence in support of my point rather than evidence to the contrary.

    I haven’t found any other news reference to Chen as either Haredi or Orthodox besides the one in HaAretz, the most left-leaning of Israel’s dailies. So far the only commenter to even attempt to provide a counter-proof was rtw, and that, too, turned out to support my argument. If this is so normal, then by definition it should be readily available via relevant news searches. Why have none of the armchair philosophers summoned up even a single example?

  25. chareidi leumi says:

    >I don’t know about the others, but I know that aides to Rav Elyashiv called the letter a forgery, saying Rav Elyashiv never signed it nor was asked to sign it. I can’t claim I know the truth, but doubt Shmuel knows with greater certainty.

    I don’t know about Rav Elyashiv, Rav Kanievski, and Rav Steinman … but if someone wrote a letter in my name supporting a monster like Chen, and published it in chareidi channels (why would they accept a forgery?), then I would make sure to publish a clarification – as well as going to the police to have the matter investigated and the forgers prosecuted. These rabbis’ silence on the matter is deafening – and is not easily defended.

  26. cvmay says:

    Society’s norm is to label people by association.
    If one davens in a Young Israel shul, he is a Young Israel type, if he learns daf yomi at the corner shteeble-he’s a heimishe guy. One who attends dvrei chizuk orated by Rav M. Solomon is considered Yeshivish and attending the annual Israel Day Parade in Manhattan anoints you as a Tzioni. These are the facts of life…..truism, accuracy or honesty has nothing to do with the subject.

  27. Yaakov Menken says:

    I decided to accept “rtw”s comment in this case, for the sole purpose of showing the sort of nitpicking which has driven Rabbi Shafran to close all comments to his posts, and to explain why I won’t be accepting more of rtw’s.

    Follow his link, and you will, indeed, find 8 news articles about Neulander in which the words “Reform Rabbi” are buried (literally — follow the most prominent link, to American Thinker magazine, and you will see that “buried” is apt). Now remove the words “Reform Rabbi” and do the search again. You will get “about” 948 results. 8 out of 948 (under 1%) is already insignificant, but many of the 948 appear to be collections of similar articles (as many as 55 in one case) published in multiple sources. So there are perhaps thousands of articles about the murder which fail to even mention that Neulander was a Reform Rabbi. None, of course, say so in the headline. Oh, and furthermore, none of the 8 articles which do mention “Reform Rabbi” predates the year 2000, while the murder and trial all took place in the 1990’s (and the first links for “Fred Neulander” date to 1994).

    So while rtw delivers his comment with a generous dose of smugness, finding an unusual way to say “they called him Reform Rabbi as soon as it became news”… this is false. They didn’t. Oh… and one of the 8 matches trumpeted by rtw is a letter to the editor of the JPost, calling Reform Rabbi David Forman to task for writing an Op-Ed about the case, while failing to mention that Neulander was Reform. I stand by my point.

  28. rtw says:

    “Similarly, no one referred to ‘Reform Rabbi Fred Neulander’ when he hired two hit men to murder his wife in 1994.”
    True. For whatever reason, they only started to refer to him as such when the prosecution started to consider charging him with said crime.

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22fred+neulander%22&sa=N&tbs=nws:1,ar:1#sclient=psy&hl=en&tbs=nws:1%2Car%3A1&q=%22fred+neulander%22+%22reform+rabbi%22&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.&fp=a3cda108bfaa905c

  29. Yaakov Menken says:

    I don’t know about the others, but I know that aides to Rav Elyashiv called the letter a forgery, saying Rav Elyashiv never signed it nor was asked to sign it. I can’t claim I know the truth, but doubt Shmuel knows with greater certainty.

  30. shmuel` says:

    Actually, there have been many Charedi Rabbis who are well known and recognized members of the Charedi community who have supported him and wrote letters in his defense. This is a documented fact. It is quite hard to disavow him as a member of a community whose leaders are essentially calling him one of their own.

    “Rabbi Avraham Froelich, who represents the Eda Haredit, also defended the convict. “Chen is a naïve and delicate soul. The evidence proves he did nothing. This is a Dreyfus plot,” he said.” http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4035543,00.html

    http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3861625,00.html

  31. E. Fink says:

    Haredi refers to a group of people not level of observance. Just like “yeshivish” or “chasidish”.

  32. Joe Hill says:

    And if he were a secular local councilman, the headline would never be: “Secular politician Elior Chen sentenced”.

  33. David Knight says:

    Because it like saying Democratic or Republican. Its a party affiliation. How can you tell? Because thats how they self identify.